August 31, 2004

Short Takes, August 2004


Emmett Till Case Re-Opened

As reported in The New York Times, the US Justice Department announced that it was opening a criminal investigation into the case of the brutal killing of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy whose death in Mississippi provided a flashpoint in the civil rights movement. Prosecutors said information uncovered in the filming of two documentaries on the 1955 killing suggested that people besides the two original suspects may have been involved.

Till, a Chicagoan who was visiting relatives in Money, Miss., that August, was dragged from his bed, beaten, shot and dropped in the Tallahatchie River after he had been accused of whistling at a white woman. The two men tried for the crime were acquitted by an all-white jury, and the federal government didn't investigate the case at the time, despite numerous pleas. Now that additional people have been implicated in the murder, a new case can be opened to investigate their involvement.  

The two documentaries instrumental in the re-examination of the case were Keith Beauchamp's The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and Stanley Nelson's The Murder of Emmett Till. Both have been reviewed by the Justice Department.


Harris Completes Photography on Apartheid Doc

Director Thomas Allen Harris has completed principal photography on Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela, his epic new film about the anti-apartheid struggle and a quest for reconciliation between a South African father and his African-American son. Little did the father, Pule ("Lee") Leinang, realize that one struggle would take a lifetime, while the other would take his life.

Spanning more than 40 years, this feature length documentary will capture three defining periods of the Disciples' lives: Exodus, Exile and Homecoming. Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela will move between past and present, juxtaposing archival footage, photographs and recreations of youthful disciples fighting for the freedom of South Africa with footage of the matured men facing a new country that barely knows them.

Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela was produced by Harris and Woo Jung A. Cho with IDA Board Member St. Clair Bourne as co-executive producer and Paul Carter Harrison as the project's script consultant. The production is the first feature documentary filmed in the Free State and is part of the efforts of the Free State Department of Tourism to develop the tourism sector.

Tribeca Winner Acquired by Women Makes Movies

Women Make Movies has acquired Cathy Henkel's The Man Who Stole My Mother's Face, an exploration of the unsolved case of the rape of Henkel's mother, for North American distribution. The film tied for the Best Documentary Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Director Henkel, from South Africa but based in Australia, has worked as a documentary producer, writer and director since 1988, following a 10-year career as a theater director. She recently directed a stage production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues in Australia.

Her film was an official selection at Hot Docs, a finalist in the Documentary Competition at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival and a finalist for the Independent Spirit Award at the Lexus IF Awards in Australia. Worldwide sales for the film are being handled by Films Transit, and the film is slated for broadcast on the Sundance Channel in 2005.  

Coming To a Small Screen Near You...

Docurama recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Beginning with the inaugural DVD release of DA Pennebaker's Dont Look Back in 1999 through the release May 2004 of The Weather Underground, the company has released over 100 docs on DVD. Upcoming releases include Absolutely Positive, Peter Adair's classic film about living with HIV;  Best Boy, Ira Wohl's Academy Award®-winning film about his mentally retarded cousin Philly's quest for greater independence; Blue Vinyl, Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold's toxic comedy about polyvinyl chloride (PVC); My Flesh and Blood (Jonathan Karsh, dir.; Jennifer Chaiken, prod.), a sobering, inspiring look at Susan Tom, a single mother caring for 11 adopted special needs children in Fairfield, California; Sister Helen, (Rebecca Cammisa, Rob Fruchtman, prods./dirs.), the story of a recovering alcoholic and Benedictine sister who spent the last years of her life running a halfway house in New York City's South Bronx neighborhood; and When the Mountains Tremble (Pamela Yates and Newton Thomas Sigel, dirs.; Peter Kinoy, prod.), a new, updated version of the classic film about war and social revolution in Guatemala centered on the experiences of Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. 


The winners have been announced for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 31st Annual Student Academy Awards Competition. Documentary winners are as follows: Cheerleader (Kimberlee Bassford, University of California, Berkeley); Cuba: Illogical Temple (David Pittock and Lindsey Kealy, University of Nebraska, Lincoln); and When the Storm Came (Shilpi Gupta, University of California, Berkeley). Documentary category nominees included The Adventures of Mad Matt (Scott Rice, University of Texas at Austin); and Wet Dreams and False Images (Jesse Epstein, New York University)

Nominations were announced for the Fifth Annual Golden Trailer Awards, honoring film trailers for their artistic value, at a special nominee reception at the Marquee in New York City. Trailers nominated in the documentary category include Capturing the Friedmans, My Flesh and Blood, Spellbound, Step into Liquid, Touching the Void and Winged Migration. The Golden Trailer Award went to Spellbound.

Pioneering filmmakers DA Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus and Stanley Nelson were honored at the 45th Annual CINE Golden Eagle Film and Video Awards Gala this past April. CINE is one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious film and video organizations, and the awards honor high production standards in film and video. Nelson received the CINE Leadership Award, while Pennebaker and Hegedus received the CINE Trailblazers Award. Awards announced at the event included CINE Masters Series Awards for best in the professional divisions. Lone Wolf Productions won in the Non-Fiction Division for Fire on the Mountain, a film for The History Channel; and MacGillivray Freeman Films was honored in the Professional Non-Telecast Division for Coral Reef Adventure. The CINE Award of Excellence for best in the student/adult amateur division went to Josh Newman, University of Southern California, for The Mail Gaze. 


The second Chicago International Documentary Festival closed last April, with awards going to Andreas Horvath's This Ain't No Heartland (Grand Prize); Erich Langjahr's Shepherds, Journey into the Third Millennium (Cinematography Award); James Miller's Death in Gaza and Vinayan Kodoth's Journeys (Innovation Awards); Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Audience Award) and Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse's Persons of Interest (Humanitarian Award). Special prizes were given to Tom Roberts' Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber (Film Critics' Award), David Ofek's No. 17 (International Press Award) and Clive Gordon's Moscow Central (Chicago Doc Classic Award).

For the first time in the history of the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI), the winner of the main competition was a domestically produced picture-documentarian Ana Poliak's second feature Parapalos, a highly original look at the microcosmos of a bowling-alley pinsetter.

At the 2004 San Francisco International Film Festival, the Golden Gate Award for Documentary Feature went to Israeli doc Checkpoint by Yoav Shamir. Girl Trouble by Lexi Leban and Lidia Szajko received the Bay Area Documentary Award, worth $2,500 in cash and $2,000 in lab services from AlphaCine Labs. The Polish film A Life to Live by Maciej Adamek won the Documentary Short Award, while Annelise Wunderlich's Crystal Harvest won the Bay Area Documentary Short Award (both worth $1,500 in cash). In addition to the Golden Gate Awards, the Mongolian/German production The Story of the Weeping Camel by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni earned the FIPRESCI Award.

David Lebrun's Proteus won the Jury Award for Best Documentary at the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. The Philadelphia CityPaper Festival of Independents, showcasing regional filmmakers, awarded its doc prize to Cheryl Hess's La Promesa.

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival announced a numerous award winners at the closing ceremony in April. Films and filmmakers honored included:

         Sarah Goodman's Army of One, a look at three young people who join the US Army and discover that conforming to military values demands a high price (Best Canadian Documentary).

        Peter Chappell and Catherine Peix for The Origins of AIDS, a masterful investigation into the medical profession using elements of film noir, conspiracy theory and investigative filmmaking (Best Direction, Canadian Spectrum Programme, Feature).

       Ali Kazimi for Continuous Journey, a beautiful essay that unravels the complex and little known story of how a ship with 376 immigrants from India was turned away by Canada in 1914 (Special Jury Prize, Best Direction, Canadian Spectrum Programme, Feature).

       Marilu Mallet's La Cueca Sola, which focuses on the heroic efforts of women in Chile to reinstate a democratic government after the death of Allende (Best Canadian Documentary and Best Direction—Short to Mid-Length).

        Israeli director Yoav Shamir's Checkpoint, which captures the often dramatically charged interactions of Israeli soldiers with Palestinians attempting to lead normal lives (Best International Documentary—Feature). The Jury also acknowledged two especially strong films in this category: Danish director Anders Hogsbro Ostergaard's Tintin and I and Israeli directors David Ofek and Ron Rotem's No. 17.

      Wellspring by Chinese director Sha Qing, a portrait of a family in rural China struggling with many challenges, including a child with cerebral palsy (Best International Documentary—Short to Mid-Length). Honorable mention in this category went to Esteban Uyarra's War Feels Like War.

        Arna's Children, by directors Juliano Mer Khamis and Danniel Danneiel, about a tough Israeli woman who runs a small theatre group for Palestinian children. Her son returns to Jenin years later and learns that many of Arna's "children" have joined the struggle for Palestinian independence (FIPRESCI Award for Best First Documentary).

        Netherlands director Ineke Smits' Putin's Mama, an affectionate portrait
of 77 year old Vera, who is convinced that Vladimir Putin is her long-lost
son (Best Documentary Award, National Spotlight Program).

       Michael Maclear received the festival's Outstanding Achievement Award.

        James Miller's Death in Gaza, which documents the director's tragic death at the hands of Israeli soldiers, while covering conditions among Palestinian children in Gaza. (Audience Award).

The Tribeca Film Festival's Best Documentary Feature Award was shared by two films this year: Juliano Mer Khamis and Danniel Danneiel's Arna's Children (Israel) and Cathy Henkel's The Man Who Stole My Mother's Face (Australia/South Africa). Paolo Sacramento received the award for Best New Documentary Filmmaker for his film The Prisoner of the Iron Bars—Self Portraits (O Prisoneiro da Grade de Ferro-Retratos). The $25,000 Audience Award was presented to Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold's documentary Every Mother's Son; Sonia Herman Dolz'x The Master and His Pupil won the prize in the Best Documentary > 2 category (for work by directors who have already made two features). In the NY, NY Section, the feature doc award went to Scott Cray's Kill Your Idols. The award for Best Short Documentary went to Oren Jacoby's Sister Rose's Passion.   

The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival presented the Best Documentary Award to Murray Nossel's Paternal Instinct, which follows a gay New York couple on its quest for a biological child.

Gabriele Zamparini and Lorenzo Meccoli's XXI Century: The Last Empire won the Audience Award for the Best TV Series at Documenta Madrid, the international documentary film festival organized by the city of Madrid.


Peters Exits AIVF; Matias Steps in as Interim Director

Elizabeth Peters has exited as the executive director of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) after a five-year tenure. At press time, a search was underway to find her replacement, with Beni Matias serving as interim director. Matias is a former AIVF board member, and has served on the boards of Intermedia Arts Minnesota and Women Make Movies. She is a founding member of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, a former NALIP coordinator and a current board member. She has also held leadership positions at the Center for Arts Criticism, the Independent Television Service and WNYC-TV. Matias has produced documentaries both for public television and independently, and is currently producing the documentary For the Record: Guam and World War II.